Book to Screen: Anne of Green Gables

This past week I found out that two of my favorite books are being made into movies. Happy dance! One is a well-loved classic novel that already has a fantastic mini-series version. The other is a 2011 young adult novel that I will write a post about in a few days. Let’s get on to the classic: Anne of Green Gables.

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The first film version of Anne of Green Gables by Lucy Maud Montgomery was a black and white silent film made in 1919, eleven years after the book was published. Based on my research, it appears that the film was never released. Several other versions followed, including the popular 1985 miniseries Anne of Green Gables and the 1987 sequel Anne of Avonlea. This version was widely praised, and I believe the talented cast was a large part of the film’s success. Megan Follows was the perfect choice for plucky orphan Anne Shirley, and I feel sorry for anyone who has to play the part after her. She seemed to understand who Anne is: tough yet dreamy, romantic yet feminist, and sometimes difficult but desperately wanting to do better and be better.

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Colleen Dewhurst and Richard Farnsworth were excellent as Marilla and Matthew Cuthbert, the elderly siblings who are quite surprised when the orphanage sends Anne to them instead of a boy. The scenes between Marilla, Matthew and Anne provide many of the most poignant moments in the series, and I admit that I cried through many of them. Anne’s “bosom friendship” with her “kindred spirit” Diana Barry and her love/hate relationship with Gilbert Blythe were also depicted beautifully in this film. Gilbert became one of my serious book crushes…sigh.

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I’m not sure how many times I’ve seen Anne of Green Gables and Anne of Avonlea (because when you watch one, you have to stay up all night watching the other), but talking about them is making me want to order the DVDs immediately. How do I not own these already?? When you love a book and its movie version this hard, it’s difficult to imagine the necessity for a reboot. And yet I’m looking forward to the Netflix version, an eight episode series titled Anne that is currently being filmed in Canada. It will air some time in 2017.

There are reasons to be both optimistic and concerned about the remake. One reassuring detail is that they have assembled a talented all-female team for the writing, producing and directing. The writer is Moira Walley-Beckett who worked on Breaking Bad. I can’t imagine a series more different from Anne of Green Gables than Breaking Bad, but I also know that great writers can do different genres well. I’m pretty sure Anne won’t be mixing up meth on P.E.I.

According to information released from the filmmakers, there will be new plot lines that address contemporary issues of bullying, prejudice and identity. Hmmm. This makes me anxious. There is plenty of action to include from the novel itself so it worries me that they feel the need to add new scenes in an attempt to modernize the story. I’m not a fan of messing with classics unless you’re going completely over the top, like adding zombies or sea serpents. When the Keira Knightly version of Pride and Prejudice concluded with kissing and invented dialogue, it really got my petticoats in a wad. You’re going to improve on Jane Austen’s dialogue?? You cheapen the moments between Darcy and Elizabeth just to make the ending sexier?!? I don’t think so, bub!

OK, calm down, Willard. Deep breaths. Think of Darcy in the BBC version…

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I will watch the Netflix version of Anne, and then I’ll retreat to the ’85 miniseries if they don’t get it right. It will be fun to see Carrots and Gil on screen again. They better not cut out the scene where she breaks the slate over his head.

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I think Anne would appreciate filmmakers who are willing to take a risk on a remake though, don’t you?

“Oh, it’s delightful to have ambitions. I’m so glad I have such a lot. And there never seems to be any end to them– that’s the best of it. Just as soon as you attain to one ambition you see another one glittering higher up still. It does make life so interesting.” ~ Anne Shirley

 

Books to Read on the First Day(s) of School

As a teacher and a librarian, I always eagerly anticipated that first day of school. I was well rested. My lessons plans were solid. My room was lice free. And I knew that my students would be on good behavior for at least a week. This year, I’m heading back into the school year as a parent, not as a teacher or a school librarian. It’s strange to be on summer vacation instead of being part of the hustle of teacher workdays. Today I found myself hanging bulletin board paper in my husband’s classroom because apparently I can’t stay away.

In the spirit of keeping my head in the game, here is a list of great books to read aloud the first day(s) of school (pre K through third grade). I noted which books have main characters who are people of color because I think diversity is an important consideration when selecting read alouds. Please feel free to share some of your favorites in the comments. Wishing all my former colleagues and educators everywhere a great first day of school!

Preschool and Kindergarten

Kindergarten Diary by Antoinette Portis — This book chronicles one girl’s first month of kindergarten. The illustrations are colorful and engaging, and the story will reassure students that school is fun.

The Kissing Hand by Audrey Penn — Mama Raccoon comforts her baby as he starts school. This book addresses the separation anxiety many children feel. If you’re a sap like me, it may bring tears to your eyes.

Bailey by Harry Bliss — Bailey decides to attend school. What’s the problem? He’s a dog. If you’re looking for a lighthearted read, this is a great choice.

The Night Before Kindergarten by Natasha Wing — This take on the classic Christmas story is a solid choice for the first day. At the end of the story, the parents are the ones crying as they drop off to their kindergarteners. Too true.

I am Too Absolutely Small for School by Lauren Child — Lola’s brother Charlie tries to reassure her that school will be fun. I find that Lauren Child’s illustrations are better for one on one reading, but the story is funny enough to hold a group’s attention.

 

Grades 1-3

Brand New School, Brave New Ruby by Derrick Barnes — This book is for all the younger siblings who follow their brothers and sisters into a school. Ruby is sassy, smart and ready to make a name for herself. The main character is African American.

Alvin Ho: Allergic to Girls, School and Other Scary Things by Lenore Look — I love Alvin Ho because he represents the quiet, anxious introverts among us. Students who will only read Diary of a Wimpy Kid may enjoy Alvin enough to read the rest of the series. The main character is Asian American.

The Year of Billy Miller by Kevin Henkes — You may know Henkes from his stellar career as a picture book author. This is what I would call a quiet book. Nothing zany or intense happens, but many students will relate to the experiences of second grade and family life.

Dory Fantasmagory: The Real True Friend  by Abby Hanlon — I haven’t loved a protagonist this much since Clementine. Dory is that strange kid, the one who talks to herself, wears weird clothing, and is generally under-appreciated. She desperately wants a girl named Rosabelle to be her new best friend. Hilarious. I want Dory to be my best friend.

Make Way for Dyamonde Daniels by Nikki Grimes — Dyamonde is dealing with her parents’ divorce and moving to a new school, but she retains a positive attitude. When a grouchy boy arrives as the new kid in her class, Dyamonde is determined to get to the bottom of his bad attitude. The main characters are African American.

 

 

 

 

 

Jane Austen, Programming Languages, and Being “That Guy” in the Writing Class

This writer provides insight that made me think about my own experience with writing classes, conferences, and critique partners. It’s so important to find a critique partner and beta readers who can read your language (be it Austen or Blub).

The Incompetent Writer

Did you read the Buzzfeed piece that came out last month, about writing workshops and Pride and Prejudice, by Shannon Reed? “If Jane Austen Got Feedback From Some Guy In A Writing Workshop.”

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You should. It’s very funny.

Dear Jane,
I don’t usually read chick lit, but I didn’t hate reading this draft of your novel, which you’re calling Pride and Prejudice. I really liked the part where Elizabeth and her aunt and uncle went on a road trip, which reminded me of Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales (also about a road trip — check it out!).

I won’t lie. I like to think I’m not as sexist and priggish as this guy. Still, parts of Reed’s piece made me cringe in self-recognition.

I winced.

In a writing workshop, it’s easy (easy at least for me) to develop the exact tone (superior…

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Clubbing (With Books)

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How many book clubs have you been in? C’mon, I could have asked if you’ve been in a book club, but you’re reading this blog. The jig is up. You’re a book club person, am I right? Book clubs are nerd fests, which is why I love them. As a librarian, I’m the ultimate nerd (pushes glasses up on nose). I’m someone who would probably start a book club, which I may or may not have done in the past. That book club might have ended because I had a second child and gave in to the fact that as a working mom with two small children, I was useless after 7:00 pm.

Flash forward three years, and guess what? I joined a book club! Shocking, I know.

At our first (and thus far only) book club meeting, I found myself feeling a bit of pressure. Lady librarian better have some cool recommendations on hand. Don’t worry, I have an excuse why I came to the first meeting without even a cheese plate. As a school librarian, I needed to be ready to recommend books to kids. As a writer of young adult fiction, I wanted to read comp titles. Basically, I have spent six years exclusively reading children’s and young adult novels (with a few exceptions). Therefore, the recommendation well was pretty dry.

As another book club member was fumbling to find a list she had on her phone, I finally came up with a possible title. I’d read an interview with a writer on Cup of Jo. The interview was about health and beauty, I’ll admit, but I later saw the writer’s new book in my beloved local bookstore and read the jacket. It piqued my interest because the setting was Brooklyn and the story sounded modern and humorous. When I suggested it to the clubbers, they jumped on it. Modern Lovers by Emma Straub, sounds great! Gulp. I hoped I hadn’t led them astray.

Then a summer storm struck and a tree fell on my minivan. Yes, I’m a librarian who drives a minivan. Don’t be so judgey. The tree has nothing to do with this story, but it was a pretty exciting end to a book club meeting. I tried not to take it as an omen.

Modern Lovers is a book about growing old and growing up. Two middle-aged couples living in gentrified Brooklyn–Andrew & Elizabeth and Zoe & Jane–are contending with marital discord and existential questions. Andrew, Zoe and Elizabeth were in a modestly successful band in college, but have all gone on to have traditional careers (or, in Andrew’s case, to live off a trust fund). Their marginally talented bandmate, *Lydia, went on to become famous for singing a feminist anthem that was written by Elizabeth. Lydia was addicted to drugs and died at age twenty-seven, and now Hollywood wants to make a biopic about her life. Andrew, Zoe and Elizabeth must decide if they will sign over rights to their famous song. Feelings resurface around their connection to Lydia and their unfulfilled musical careers. The couples are also dealing with typical issues in marriages entering a third decade: waning sex lives, looming empty nests and mid-life regrets.

As the adults flounder, their teenaged children are consumed with the anxieties and passions that accompany coming of age. Harry, son of Andrew and Elizabeth, is an almost freakishly “good kid” who is adored in part because he has never been a nuisance or a concern. Ruby, daughter of Jane and Zoe, is quite the opposite. Straub does an excellent job of depicting Ruby as both spoiled and self-aware. She is a brat sometimes, but she knows it, and has some cause for her resentments. She also displays a strong ownership of her sexuality and her boundaries, even when she is taking risks. As a young adult fiction fan, I appreciated that Ruby is allowed to enjoy and initiate intimate moments with her partners. What I’m trying to say in PG terms is that teenage girls have hormones, too. Thank you, Ms. Straub, for acknowledging that without judgment. And, as the author points out, sometimes teenagers make out in school playgrounds because there’s nowhere else for them to be alone. It’s not all vampires and mossy forest floors out there.

I’m curious if my love of Brooklyn weighed into how much I enjoyed the book. We’ll have to see what the other clubbers have to say. I was kind of ready to get away from hipsters when I left Brooklyn in 2002, but it’s fun to visit, both in real life and novels. I recommend reading this book with a nice cup of kombucha.

I’d love to hear what you and your book club are reading. Nerds, unite!

Photo via Visual Hunt

*I tried to picture someone comparable to Lydia in real life and failed so if you thought of someone, please let me know in the comments.

 

Fraidy Cat Writes a Thriller

3663663012_c4b06e1e63_bHistorically, I steer away from the horror and thriller genres and tend to read fiction where no one gets sliced, stalked or slowly driven insane. I blame my mother and Jack the Ripper for this aversion.  I grew up the 70s when people commonly had one TV in their home and mini-series were a huge deal (Roots, Thornbirds, *North and South, etc.). There was no way Mom was missing a juicy miniseries like Jack the Ripper. When I voiced my concern about having nightmares, she told me I had two options: watch or go to bed. At the time, I had cause to believe that a vampire lived in the drawer under my bed so I wasn’t going upstairs alone. I was a coward, but I wasn’t an idiot. Therefore, I watched and was scarred for life. My mom thinks this story is hilarious and responds by saying, “Well, you could have gone upstairs. It’s not like we had DVR back then so what did you want me to do, miss it?”

I know from experience as a school librarian that kids adore Adam Gidwitz’s Grimm series. Ten year olds are aghast when I tell them I can’t get past the early scenes where someone’s head gets lopped off. I know what they were thinking: wimpy librarian. I can live with that. I’m thrilled to recommend the Grimm series to students who like their horror served with a head on a plate. Kids seem less bothered by gore, in general. To my credit, I did get through the spooky novel Behind the Bookcase by Mark Steensland, even though it totally creeped me out (as the author intended), and the young horror fans I handed it to were delighted with it. I also frequently recommend Seraphina and the Black Cloak by Robert Beatty.  Beatty succeeds in providing just enough chills (skin in gloves!) without being inappropriate or gratuitous, and even though I figured out the main mystery pretty early on, there was a later twist that I didn’t see coming. For me, that rarely happens with children’s books, and I thought he did a masterful job of plotting. I look forward to reading the sequel.

Like me, some children frighten easily, so you have to know your audience when you make recommendations. I usually ask kids directly, “Do you like scary books or do they give you nightmares?” They know their limits. Right now, I’m trying my hand at writing a young adult thriller. It was an idea that wouldn’t leave me alone and even though I’m a little scared to write it, these characters want to get on the page. I’m reading both adult and young adult thrillers so I can better understand the elements of this genre, and I started with Sister by Rosamund Lupton. The gore was minimal, but the suspense was gripping. Having a beloved sister, The Bean, I could relate to the main character’s drive to discover the truth. Some of the thrillers and mysteries I read in the past seemed to sacrifice character development in favor of complex plotting. Lupton’s characters were so well developed out that I found myself crying at certain points of the novel. I don’t think even the greatest plot can make you cry unless the writer fully invests you in the characters. I highly recommend reading Sister if you haven’t already.

I’ll write further updates on my foray into reading and writing thrillers. It’s getting late, and I need to check under the bed for vampires.

Photo credit: LuisRaa via VisualHunt / CC BY-NC-SA

*I’m pretty sure that when my mother bought me the book version of North and South, she was unaware that it was R-rated. She probably should have surmised it from the naughty bits in the TV version, but I certainly wasn’t going to tell her!